I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Flipped the Pages of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair

My copy:
Trade Paperback, Movie Tie-in Cover, at least it's an orange spined Penguin edition, which kind of makes up for its being a movie tie-in cover
ISBN: 0140291091
Purchased: August 25, 2000
from National Bookstore
Read: November 20, 2010 (in time for the FFP book discussion, but in reality, I finished the last few pages the next day.)

I bought this book because I loved the movie. I watched the film at a time when I, too, was negotiating with God for matters of love, marital and otherwise.

The movie was poignant; the story, heartbreaking; and Julianne Moore was the perfect actress to play an adulteress whom one can love and forgive.

The movie set an impossible bar for my book reading to match.

I really believe it is not in the natural order of things to watch the movie before reading the book. The beauty of book reading relies much on the plot, the evolution of the story and its twists and turns, the building up of the characters -- their motivations, their justifications for the things they do. Movies also need those, but the movie's cinematography merely supplants (replaces/reinforces/contradicts) one's imaginings derived from reading a book with somebody else's constructed visuals.

The natural order is first, you read the book, form movies in your mind, direct the blocking, design the sets, be your own CGI creator, and cast the characters. And then, you watch the movie. To judge it against your expectations. This order extends the reading process to include some kind of affirmation of one's imaginings, so in a way the pleasure of reading does not end after the last page. This order does not necessarily ruin the watching of the film and can even enhance the movie-watching experience because you see more deeply into the characters.

When you watch the movie first, the reading is robbed of the discovery, the surprises, and you tend to just watch out for events you've already seen in full color and fine detail.

But anyway, let's go back to the book. I finally read it because it was our book club's reading assignment for November. We had our discussion yesterday, so it'll be hard to separate my thoughts about the novel from those that sprung from the discussion.

First off, the novel is a well loved favorite for a couple of our book club members. Couple that fact with my loving the movie, and the expectations were set too high. Graham Greene did not stand a chance. I wanted the book to be great. It was good, but it fell short of great.

Why was it good?

Everybody said it was the writing. But a well written book that does not incite something from the reader is not really all that well written. Yes, any reader can glean Greene's mastery of his craft, but it's not the only thing that makes it a good book.

I liked the way it incorporates a masculine and a feminine voice. The book starts with Maurice Bendrix's narration of an affair that ended two years ago. It is the voice of somebody trying to report events while trying not to get too emotional, but fails, failing because he is too filled up with hate, love, and longing to ever sound like an impartial journalist. And then, midway through the book, his adulterous lover Sarah Miles' journal voice takes over, explaining the whys, filling in the blanks, answering Bendrix's angry, bitter questions.

The other thing I liked about the book is its description of an author's life and habits. Bendrix is an author, and the novel narrates how his affair and its aftermath have disrupted his writing schedule and moods. There is talk that the novel might be autobiographical, so it's a delicious thought that Graham Greene has given me clues on how he writes -- 500 words a day, always in the morning, how some characters just obstinately won't come to life, and how he took long walks when the writing wasn't going well.

I also like the humanness of its characters. Every character is broken, wicked, and yes, lame. And Greene does not try to make you love them. But I love them because I know them. I've met these people in my life, among friends who realize that the love of our lives and the ones we marry are not always the same person. I have known people who live unaware of their unhappiness until they find a different kind of happiness elsewhere. I have felt Catholic guilt and known how God is always part of some kind of love triangle.

Another element that makes the book good is the lines.

The novel starts with: "A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead."

And is peppered with:

"The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of unhappiness. In misery we seem aware of our existence..."

"As long as I go on writing, yesterday is today and we are still together."

"fossilizing under the drip of conversation."

And is delightfully cheesified with:

"Love doesn't end just because we don't see each other."

"There didn't seem to be any other reason to be with him except to be with him."

And I liked the part about the onion. You've got to read the book to know about the onion.

Why is this novel not great?

The ending. It should have ended 30 and 50 pages ago. It could have spared us the incredulity of all that saint and miracle stuff. It could have done away with that ridiculous bromancey arrangement between Henry (Sarah's husband) and Maurice. It could have minimized the preachy god thoughts that are probably Greene's own. The story could have ended just a little after the affair ended and let the readers figure out and process the rest.

And this is the end of the review.


  1. Hahaha! I never thought about the bromance angle til you mentioned it! I liked the theologizing at the end though, because it made it more "real" for me, the difficulty Bendrix had in processing Sarah's death, and his sense of unfairness about it all. It was like her death redefined his life far more than the affair did.

  2. I loved the book; maybe because I read it in the mid-80s, before the movie, in the aftermath of a great love affair. I'm afraid most of Greene's books contain Catholic musings.

  3. Yes, Stepford Mum, there are some parts at the end that are relevant. I appreciate how he processed the affair, its aftermath, its meaning in his life. I like what you said about how it redefines his life. But it just seems to drag on for too many pages. Maybe because I was rushing to finish it for the book discussion.

  4. Gay, we should have coffee, lots of coffee, and talk about that great love affair. :)

  5. I have forgotten about Catholic guilt. For me, the guilt from infidelity is from the inability to stay true and keep one's vows. I find it difficult to consider God as a sort of third wheel or obstacle to loving someone. Rather, I consider our own ignorance and carelessness the limiting factors. I associate TEOTA more with being tormented by the consequences of our decisions and committing more misguided actions in an attempt to rectify mistakes.

    Oh, and where is that heartwarming poem you wrote during the discussion? I love it.

  6. Hi, Gege! What a wonderful review! I can't help but still be surprised at the lukewarm feelings most of the book club members had with this group. I guess I really am biased toward it. Apart from the deftness of Greene's writing, there were several aspects of the novel that I found really wonderful. One is the theme of adultery in the context of Catholic guilt. Another is the unconventional (for lack of a better word) love triangle of Maurice, Bendrix, and Sarah. Another is the pivotal role of God in the relationships of the two lovers.

  7. Mich, the poem's here: http://restingfromprose.blogspot.com/2010/11/sarahs-pains.html

  8. Peter, I think the story has to mean something to the reader for it to be loved. I didn't understand that they thought the characters were not believable. In fact, I found them so ordinary, so real.

  9. I'm attracted by the cover of the book, and would like to read it.

    flip book builder



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